7 things to know about the Ireland Writing Retreat in Donegal

My first writing retreat took place in Donegal Ireland. My life as a travel writer is in the incubation period. I am grabbing at every straw I can to become a better writer.  There wasn’t much information describing the workshop. I took my chances. It was not disappointing. I made friends with other writers. Two of them were Irish and one was from the US.

Many new and experienced writers are looking for places to help them perfect the art of travel writing. I hope to help anyone who is thinking about attending this retreat and is looking for facts.

7 things to know about the Ireland Writing Retreat in Donegal

The Ireland Writing Retreat is held and organized at Teac Jack in Donegal, Ireland. I spent six days in Dublin before heading to Donegal. I flew from Dublin to Donegal. The second most scenic approach in the world. I thought we were going to land in the ocean. Others took the bus from Dublin.

Teac Jack is a B&B located in Gweedore in Donegal. It has a bar, restaurant, and a beautiful view out the front door. Breakfast is served every morning from 8:00-10:00.  A full Irish breakfast includes fried ham (bacon), eggs, sausage, and a warm tomato. The eggs can be ordered as sunny-side up, boiled, poached, scrambled, and over easy. Orange juice, milk, apple juice, and coffee are available for drinks. There is a table that includes yogurt, cheerios, rice cereal, and oatmeal. Types of bread include wheat, white, and dark brown. Bread can be toasted in a toaster oven. There are no pancakes or waffles. Scones are not served for breakfast, but you can ask and you shall receive.

I went for the full breakfast on the first day. The second day, no bacon. The third day, no mushrooms. The fourth and fifth day, one egg, yogurt, and a warm tomato. The last day, ordered the whole breakfast for the last time.

Disadvantages: Teac Jack is isolated. The only place to walk is the beach. There are no other shops, bars, or restaurants nearby. I began to get cabin fever. We were also blessed with rain for two days.










An Irish breakfast

A house nearby. One of the Irish writers and I took a hike.


The program description includes the following activities.

Boat trips to the island of Gola:

The boat to Gola

There was one trip to Gola. The island was once inhabited by families. We were greeted by a couple who prepared lunch for us. Lunch included sandwiches, scones, cupcakes, and drinks.

Hiking in Gola

Cemetary for Catholic babies not yet baptized

Gola countryside

Leisurely walks and a tour of Glenveagh National Park and Castle:

The history of the Glenveagh castle is a tragic one. Unfortunately, on the day we visited the castle it was raining. The gardens are beautiful. I couldn’t get many pictures of the garden. There is a little café that serves, scones, cakes, tea, and coffee. We stopped in to have tea and dry off.

Irish language and dance classes and lively, heart-warming, foot-tapping traditional music concerts:

There were no dance classes. Every Tuesday night Tech Jack hosts the residents and their friends to a Ceili (Kaylee), Irish traditional music. I attended with some of my classmates. Two of my classmates were Irish and one of them was an avid Ceili dancer. Most of the dancers were women. They told me that they leave their husbands at home because they are boors.

The dancing starts at 8:30 and continues until 11:00. Most of these women never stop dancing. These are not young chicks. The ages ranged from 60-82. I was dragged out to the floor a few times. I didn’t know any of the steps. I tried to follow and ended up stepping on a few toes. I wish I would have had a few lessons before we attended.

There were no traditional music “concerts”. An accordion was the only instrument used. There was a performance by one dancer and a fiddler for about two minutes. A singer sang one Irish song. This is not a concert and should not be promoted as a concert. I was disappointed.

There was one leisurely walk that took us down to the beach. We picked wild raspberries. They were sweet.

A visit to Teac Mhuiris introduced us to the life that once was in Donegal, Ireland. After the lecture, our host, Maggie, brought out bread, cakes, scones, and tea. A Gaelic teacher taught us a few Gaelic phrases most commonly used in everyday language. Many people in Donegal speak Gaelic as their native language. The pronunciation is complicated. I was never able to get the words to come out of my mouth in an understandable way.


WIFI was available in “Jack’s Bar” and the room where the classes were held.  It was not available in the hotel rooms. This was a disadvantage because we had to sit in the bar with our computers to do our work. The heat in the classroom was shut off when we were not using it. The bar was noisy and there wasn’t much space to work.


The writing classes took place from 10:00 -1:00 every day.

Tea time/Story time/Language classes

The information on the site includes the following information:

Hands-on teaching techniques including one-on-one, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, critiques of participant’s own work completed before and during the week-long writing retreat. 

We were given an assignment and it was due within 24 hours. There was no offer of one on one in person critiques. The critiques came in the form of feedback online. The critiques did help. They were not profound critiques. The critiques were given by Sean Hillen the instructor/author.

A workshop presented by Emily DeDakis, a dramaturg, had us do various writing activities including putting our ideas into various groups. She gave us the assignment to write about something that we would never tell anyone. I didn’t do the assignment. She wasn’t going to give any feedback and I didn’t understand what the purpose was. Why should I tell her a secret when I don’t even know her?

Another workshop was presented by Laurence McKeown, a play writer. Laurence had a very interesting story about being held in prison for 17 years. He was on a hunger strike for almost seventy days. We found his story fascinating. He gave us intensive feedback on an assignment. The assignment was to write a story that included 50% dialog. It was misunderstood by all the class participants. He corrected them in a way that made them bleed. So much red ink!

Farewell Dinner

The agenda listed the Farewell Dinner as an “evening filled with wine snacks, and lively conversation”.  We had sandwiches that were hastily made and not tasty and lots of wine. The “lively conversation” included a local guitarist whose voice gave me a headache. He told us that he doesn’t write music, he just sings from memory. Another local tried to sing a traditional Irish song but had a very bad cold. We had some lively music from one of the participant’s husbands who played country western music and she had a beautiful voice. The lively conversation switched to Irish politics.

Welcome Dinner

A magical mystery welcome was the title of the welcome dinner.  The owner of Cafe Kitty gave a presentation on potatoes and how they can be cooked. She brought a sampling of her mashed potatoes for us to try. They were good. Later in the week, we went to her restaurant for lunch. Sancho entertained us with a few Irish fairy tales.


There is no public transportation. Cabs were available and expensive. This is a problem if you want to go to another town to go shopping or eat. The cost of transportation by cab to the airport is 25 euros.


Lunch and dinner are not included. You could spend between $30-40 for food and drink per day.  Breakfast is included everyday.

Everyone has different expectations when trying something for the first. The overall experience was good. New friends, good food, rainy weather, new places, and a different language. It was an experience. I feel that the people who were running the workshop did not put enough effort into the program. They were trying to save money at the participants expense. I  admit that this is my first experience and I can’t compare this program to another.


New Irish friends

If These Castle Walls Could Talk

If These Castle Walls Could Talk

Today is a perfect day to visit a castle in Ireland. Grey, misty, damp, and a bit of mystery in the air. Castles are mysterious, secretive and overwhelming. Ireland never had any kings. They were under the kingdom and power of England. The Normans came to Ireland in the Medieval times and built castles that didn’t last long. They were trying to conquer Ireland. Many of the castles became ruins or were destroyed. Irish castles were built by foreigners trying to overtake and control the Irish people.

My four classmates, a married couple from New Jersey, two Irish women, and I pile into an old blue Ford van. Members of the Ireland Writing Retreat on Donegal held up in the inn for almost four hours. The weather is not being very cooperative. Then again it is Ireland. It begins to sprinkle as we travel about thirty minutes to our destination. The land is desolating. There is no one around. There are a few farmhouses, some goats roaming around and eating grass, and a lot of green. It is green everywhere. At home in Arizona, I see the desert. Cactus, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats. It is exciting to see such a different climate. I can put up with this rain for now.

We arrive at Glenveagh Castle located in Churchill, Letterkenny, Ireland. It is no longer sprinkling. It is pouring. We jiggle the door latch to open the door. The door slides open and out we jump. My umbrella refuses to open. Norma, one of my Irish classmate attempts to share hers with me. Norma is an author. She has written two books. She is a very happy woman in her 80s and we have become friends. Her daughter is the same age as mine and we both lost our husbands about three years ago.  She has become my hiking buddy. There is only one minor problem with the umbrella situation. She is much shorter than me. I slowly slip the umbrella out of her hands and hold it over both of our heads.  We share a laugh. We head straight to the information center. The room is very small. The receptionist is behind the information desk. There are at least eight other people squeezed into the space. A family with two young boys are sitting on the bench. The older boy keeps asking his father “Do we have to see another castle? Can I wait in the car?” This kid is castled out. We get our tickets and have to wait for about twenty minutes. I am not waiting in this crowded office. I want to go outside and take pictures.

I head outside. I have my trusty raincoat with a hood that I bought on Amazon one week before the trip. Thanks to the quick delivery provided by my Amazon Prime membership, it arrived two days before my flight. I am sure I will be protected. It is raining much harder now. My curiosity will not go away rain or not. I take out my camera. Cover the lens to the best of my ability and start snapping away. I am in the garden. The garden is walled and was planted and taken care of by the wife of John Adair, the original owner of the castle. Unlike her husband, Cornelia was a kind landlady and very generous to the poor. The garden was modeled after Italian gardens. There is a total of eleven hectares of informal gardens with a different theme. I wish I could see the flowers without the rain. The smell of the rain and the flowers are powerful for someone like me who sees rain twice a year. Yellow dahlias, pink and white roses, Japanese cherry blossoms, yellow osterglocken (daffodil) from Wales, white orchids from Panama (Holy Spirit Flower), and the pink Scottish Bluebell (national flower of Scotland). It is September and many of the flowers have reached their peak season.


I find a small bench and sit for a while protected from the torrential rain falling around me. I look around me and the mist has fallen and taken over the beautiful scenery of the garden. It is very mystifying. I find my mind wandering off and thinking what life would be in a castle. I look at my watch and realize our tour will begin in five minutes. I navigate my way to the entrance. I feel like I am walking in heaven. The rain makes me happy and gives me energy. It adds mystery to the castle.

John Adair was one of the most hated men in Ireland. Many Donegal natives would consider it a curse to even mention his name in conversation. Adair had a temper and felt a sense of entitlement that most people did not appreciate. He became a very affluent man by traveling to New York in 1850 and working on land speculation. In 1870, he returned to Glenveagh, Donegal. He began to buy up smaller portions of land the locals owned to create his large estate. The local farmers were struggling to keep their families fed and clothed. Adair was not interested in the problems of the people around him. He had no interest in helping them.

Adair had a dream. He wanted to build a castle that would be much bigger than Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish Retreat. In 1870 he built the castle on 16,958 hectares of mountains, bogs, lakes, and woods. Glenveagh Castle is four stories tall, rectangular, and made from granite.  The walls are 11/2 meters thick. The castle includes turrets, a round tower, and fortified battlement ramparts to keep out the enemies. Adair didn’t have any enemies to keep out. He wanted to keep out the Irish farmers. They were no threat to him.  Just a nuisance.

Our tour begins in the entryway. The walls are off-white and four pairs of deer busts with their antlers adorn the hallway. Two of them mounted on the wall and two on small pedestals. John Adair was an avid hunter. He replaced the poor Irish people with deer. This made me sad and I wonder how a man could be so cruel. We enter the music room. It is small, blue ceramic fireplace in the corner, blue/green plaid wallpaper on the walls (reminds me of my school uniform),  an antler chandelier hangs in the center of the room, and a big window opens to the lake below.

Our guide tells us this is where the men hung out, smoked their cigars, and shared hunting stories. We visited the oval bedroom. The guests slept here. If they needed anything, they had a little bell that would summon the servants. There were twelve indoor staff and eight gardeners.

One of the bigger rooms in the castle is the Drawing Room where the women would meet. They gossiped, worshiped themselves in their mirrors and worried that their makeup would melt because the room was so warm. They didn’t want to “lose face”. This is true and everyone in the group began to laugh. The women talked about their husbands, boyfriends, and children. They didn’t have any household duties. If they needed someone to attend to them, they rang the bell and someone would be at their beck and call.

I wanted to find out how the castle was built. Who were the laborers who carried the stones from the lake and painstakingly built the walls? Were they paid for their work? Were they the poor Irish farmers living on the land of John Adair? The guide didn’t give us this information. Another mystery.

The first thing Adair did was to evict the local families. Some say it was because he wanted to “improve the view from his castle.” Who wants to look at the poor?” The local families lived in homes with thatched roofs made of cereal straw and reed covered with wooden rafters. The walls were double packed with earth. The floors were flagstone or packed earth that didn’t help in keeping the home warm. A hearth was located in the central area of the home. There were neither chimneys nor windows for the smoke to escape. The people would have had to pay more taxes for the windows. The soot-blackened homes were known as “black houses”.

The locals became very upset and protested his hunting retreats crossing over their lands. They reported him as trespassing. He became furious and even more determined to get these people off of the land. Adair wanted to use the land as a sheep farm. He had brought his own shepherds who eventually got into a bit of trouble. One of them was accused of murder and having an affair with the dead man’s wife. She became pregnant and was sent off to Scotland.

Eviction of the locals began with Adair acquiring the necessary documents that would allow him to send his “crowbar men” house-to-house evicting families. The first house they came upon was the home of a widow and her seven children. After the family was given the news, their house was destroyed so that they could not come back and live in it. A total of two hundred and forty-four people were homeless including one hundred and fifty-nine children. Michael O’Grady paid for half of the people to move to Australia. O’Grady had purchased land in Australia for the sole purpose of providing land for the displaced farmers. Forty-two of the evicted ended up in workhouses in Letterkenny. These evictions were the most infamous in the history of Ireland.

John Adair passed away in 1885. His wife lived until 1921 and was remembered as being kind-hearted. Glenveagh was bought by a Harvard professor, Arthur Kinsley Porter. He led a very lavish lifestyle. Frequent dinner parties, deer stalking, fishing, and kept a wonderful garden. He disappeared from nearby Inishbofin Island in 1933. His death is a mystery.

Castles are pieces of European history. They represent the great divide between the rich and the poor. Who built this grand castle in Glenveagh? There is no mention of the men who carried the massive granite stones one by one up and down the hills. Were these men paid? How much were they paid? Where are the answers? I can only guess that some of the farmers left behind built the castle with no pay. They were slave laborers. There is no plaque or description of the builders. Could it be something that people just want to forget? It is important to remember history and to honor those who put so much sweat into this great castle.

I left the castle with these questions. We had some time before our van returned. We stopped at the restaurant in the visitor center. There were pies, cookies, chocolates, tea, and coffee. We all ordered something to eat and drink. I ordered coffee and a piece of cheesecake. I asked my group if they knew who built the castle. No one had the answer. The information desk wouldn’t give me an answer. Is it a secret? I want to know.

The van arrives. The rain slows to an annoying drizzle. I am disappointed. I would like to spend more time at the castle. We drive down the road and I can’t resist turning around and looking at the castle tower. It is so tall and profound. I can imagine what the life of the people outside of the castle and inside the castle was like. Two completely different groups occupying the same land.

The road we travel back is the same road that so many of the Irish walked to arrive at their ships taking them out of their country into a far and distant place. Places such as the USA and Australia, no longer in charge of their destiny.

This bridge was crossed by the evicted farmers and their families.

A message carved in Gaelic wishing everyone safe travels and mourning their loss

I look out into the vast green farmland. It is quiet and has an eerie feeling. There are no people in the fields, driving cars, or walking around. Was it always like this? It looks so lonely. No one talks as we make our way back to the Tec.

The countryside as it is today

Castles are mysterious. They hold secrets that we will never know.



My First 10 Days of Retirement

Life is a circle. The first part is learning. Learning how to be someone, a child, a teenager, and an adult. The second part is teaching. Teaching your children and your students to be someone. The third part of life is back to learning . Learning how to be a retired person.

Carol Kubota

I have just completed my first ten days of retirement not counting holidays or weekends. I began counting on January 3 because all of my colleagues had to report back to work and I stayed home.

Staying Organized

When I was teaching, I did the same thing every day. Go to class, teach, come home, grade homework, prepare the next day’s lessons and repeat for five days. It was easy to keep track of my time. Now, every day is  Sunday or Saturday.

Now I have three calendars, one in my bag that I carry everywhere, one on my Outlook, and one on the refrigerator. The first thing I do when I wake up is to check the day and date on my cell phone.  I am always afraid I will miss something.

Retirement has a different meaning for each person. I was not ready to sit home, sleep in, or watch TV.  I didn’t have any plans to play golf, mahjong, or pickle ball. My idea of retirement was being able to leave a job that I no longer found challenging to a place where I could travel, write, and connect with my community.

Ten things I did in my first 10 days of retirement.
  1. Became a member of the Kiwanis club in Fountain Hills
  2. Had lunch with another retired educator and didn’t care about the time. Neither one of us glanced at our cell phones to check the time.
  3. Attended a six-hour training for Chloe, my Cocker Spaniel, to be a therapy dog
  4. Joined the Arizona State University book club
  5. Had an interview on Skype with a start-up travel group, Joey, in San Francisco
  6. Attended a  “Wanderful” meeting with  other women who like to travel
  7. Became a docent for the art tours in Fountain Hills
  8. Signed up for one class at Changing Hands bookstore for travel writing
  9. Coffee shop hopping around Phoenix
  10. Completed  two online writing classes

I spend about two hours a day on my computer trying to write enticing stories to attract readers to my web page. Writing is not easy and I am in the process of finding that out. Teaching was not easy when I first started, but with time and experience, it became less stressful. I hope that eventually, I will be able to write with clarity, enthusiasm, perfect punctuation, and a much bigger vocabulary.

This is the beginning of a new adventure and I want to invite my readers to come along with me.



A Gem in the Desert

The Desert Heat

Hot, sizzling summer days with temperatures of up to 112 F are coming to an end. No more waking up at 4:30 a.m. to walk the dog around the park or hike. Fountain Hills, Arizona is one of the best kept secrets. It is located about twenty five minutes from the greater Phoenix area  and is home to the tallest fountain in the world which shoots up to 560 ft everyday on the hour for about 15 minutes.  The fountain is the main attraction of the park. People come from all over to take pictures.

Summer activities that take place everywhere in the USA take place in the Fall and Winter  in Fountain Hills. People come out of their summer caves and walk the trail that goes up a hill and another that goes around the park. The distance around the park is 1.5 miles. The park trail is popular with families, couples and dogs. Walk anywhere between 5:00-7:00 a.m. and you will find all kinds of dogs with their owners. People are very friendly and greet you with a “Good Morning” and a smile.

October is the time when the “Snowbirds” begin to find their way back from their summer retreats in their home states . Half of the population of Fountain Hills in the fall and winter months is made up of short term visitors. In the Fall and Winter there are disk golf championships, outdoor festivals, two extremely well know art festivals and outdoor markets where you can buy local food. Arizona is known for its lemons, grapefruit, lettuce, cotton, and cabbage.

The fountain is in the middle of a man- made lake which is filled with reclaimed water. There are signs everywhere warning people not to swim in the water. Fishing is not allowed. The ducks don’t seem to bother to read the signs. There are many geese, ducks, blue herons,egrets who nest and hatch their babies in nests that are high up in the trees. Coyotes roam the neighborhood at night and in the early mornings therefore these birds spend much of their time protecting their babies from these predators. Carp is the main type of fish that is found in the lake. There are also rare sightings of turtles and frogs.


President’s Corner and More

Fountain Park is a place for strolling around and looking at the numerous statues that are hiding in the park. Sculptures that are memories of people in the city who have passed are nestled under trees and perched on pedestals. A sculpture of a cocker spaniel with it’s head resting on the toes of a pair of bronzed hiking shoes, is a memory of his owner who passed away from cancer. The sculpture sits under a palo verde tree which blossoms with beautiful yellow flowers. Another sculpture is a little girl perched on a pedestal holding a butterfly and extending her hands out to everyone who passes by. As you approach the corner of the park you will see one of the most sought after photo locations in the park. Five presidents, Ted Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington sitting and standing around a bench discussing the politics of yesteryear.  Visitors sit on the bench or in the laps of the presidents for their “picture with the president”. The corner is referred to as Fount Rushmore or President’s corner by the locals.


An Abundance of Desert Flowers

A variety of desert flowers and cacti such as the Argentinian Giant which produces one of the biggest flowers sits proudly  in the garden with her arms laid out in front of her. It is a photographer’s dream to capture a great picture when in bloom. People stand in line to take pictures of this great plant. Other cacti include the giant saguaro with its many arms stretching as if it reaching towards the sky. Some of the saguaro cacti in the desert are more than a thousand years old.  They are protected and it is illegal to cut one down. The garden is well taken care of by volunteers. Flowers are always blooming in Arizona, even in the winter.


Sunrise! Sunset!

Families with children, retired couples and singles with their dogs sit on the benches and watch the sunset and the sunrise. The sunsets and sunrises are the most beautiful in Arizona because the background is the mountains. Cloud cover will produce the best pictures ever.


Fountain Hills is surrounded by mountains. It is one of the most beautiful places in Arizona to visit in the Fall and Winter. There is a small trail, Lake Overlook Trail, that can be hiked in no more than forty-five minutes. Once you get to the top of the trail, you will find a photographer’s paradise. As you look around you will see mountains, fruit orchards, and the Fountain Park. In the winter the mountains are snow covered, no worries, you will not have to drive through it or shovel it off your sidewalks.


Fountain Hills, Arizona

Coyotes and Javelinas, wild, aggressive, really ugly pigs, roam the neighborhood as if they own the place. They usually come out in the early morning and late evenings. You can hear the coyotes howl on many winter nights usually after they have caught their prey. They feed on the jackrabbits who run around in the desert.

It is easy to walk around Fountain Hills because it is small. You can walk to the downtown area, get a cup of coffee, sit outside and talk to your friends. You can do all of this while your friends are dodging snowstorms, shoveling snow, and wearing heavy outerwear in other parts of the US.  They will be envious! Put this article down and come to Fountain Hills and see for yourself.


Fountain Hills has a local population of 23,235.

The Average High in summer is 115F

The Average Low in winter is 42F